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COUNTY OF

LOS ANGELES

EFFECTIVE
INTERVIEWING
Techniques for effective
Los Angeles interviewing
County
Human Resources
YOUR CAREER STARTS HERE.
1
Welcome!
Thank you for your interest in obtaining employment with the County of Los Angeles. In concert with
the County’s Strategic Plan Goal of Workforce Excellence, the Department of Human Resources has
created this guide to provide you with information on how to prepare for your interview. Specifically,
this guide will help you:
 understand the function of the interview;
 identify the qualifying requirements of the job;
 identify your qualifications and match them to the job requirements;
 formulate effective responses to interview questions;
 practice and prepare for your interview; and
 learn about the County’s interview process and procedures.

Who should use this guide?


This guide targets the entry- to mid-level job seeker. However, it may be useful to anyone who wishes
to interview more effectively.

Why do we conduct interviews?


If you have ever sought a job in the past, chances are you have gone through an interview. Like other
employers, the County requires a face-to-face interview as part of our hiring process for most jobs.
This is because the interview is an effective method for measuring a candidate’s ability to successfully
perform on the job.
At the County of Los Angeles, interviews are typically conducted during an examination, which is the
process of evaluating the qualifications of candidates through methods such as a written test, structured
interview, evaluation of training and experience, etc. A structured interview is an oral test in which all
candidates are asked the same set of questions, and responses to the questions are evaluated according
to previously developed standards.
The structured interview is an opportunity for US to:
 determine whether the knowledge, skills, and abilities you possess correspond with those
needed for successful performance on the job; and
 gain information about the specific nature and depth of your work experience, such as the types
of assignments and projects you have completed.
In addition, the interview is an opportunity for YOU to:
 demonstrate and discuss your background and qualifications as they relate to the demands of
the job;
 present yourself as a qualified candidate with marketable skills; and
 obtain further information about the nature and responsibilities of the job.

Disclaimer
Though this guide presents useful and practical information on this subject area, there is no guarantee
that someone who reads this guide will be able to perform better on a County examination. By merely
using this guide, you consent to understanding and agreeing with this disclaimer.

“To be prepared is half the victory.” -Miguel De Cervantes


2
Preparing for the Interview
Although you may not know exactly what will be asked of you during the interview, how prepared you
are for the interview is up to you! Adequate preparation will assist you in presenting your
qualifications in the most favorable light and will help you to feel more confident in general. The
following information is designed to help you GET READY FOR SUCCESS!

Learn about County government


A job is more than a fixed set of responsibilities; rather, it must be viewed within the context of the
entire organization. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the County of Los Angeles will
increase your understanding of the functions of the job and reflect well on you during the interview.
You can visit the County’s website (http://lacounty.info) to learn about our:
 vision statement;
 organizational structure/division of responsibilities;
 programs and services;
 client/customer base; and
 promotional and training opportunities.

Learn about the job


To get ready for the interview, try to learn all you can about the job you are seeking. The County
provides two important documents that can help you accomplish this:

Job Bulletin Class Specification

Information  Duties and responsibilities of the job  General description of the job
provided:  Minimum requirements and desirable qualifications  Typical duties performed on the job
(e.g., education, experience, knowledge, skills,  Minimum requirements
abilities, etc.)
 Examination components (i.e., written test, interview,
performance test, etc.)
 Whom to call to request a reasonable accommodation,
if needed.

How to  In Person: Department of Human Resources  Online: http://dhr.lacounty.info


access: 3333 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100 (click on “Class Specifications”)
Los Angeles CA 90010
(213) 738-2084

 Online: http://dhr.lacounty.info
(click on “Job Information”)

Available:  Only when applications are being accepted for the job  Always1
1
If you find a job that interests you, but the County is not currently accepting applications for that job (i.e., a job bulletin is not available), you can
complete a Job Interest Card (visit http://dhr.lacounty.info, click on “Job Information, and then “Job Interest Card”). By completing this card, you will
receive an email when the County begins accepting applications for the job.

The information provided on the Job Bulletin and Class Specification will help to further direct your
interview preparation and give you specific insight as to the areas that will be assessed during the
interview.

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” -H. Jackson Brown Jr.
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The areas on which you will be assessed during the interview depend on the level of the job you are
seeking. Interviews for entry-level jobs typically focus more on general skill and ability areas than on
job-specific knowledge areas that you would likely have to acquire through job experience. Though
not all inclusive, here are some examples of areas on which you may be assessed:
 Adaptability: To readily adjust to changing circumstances and/or modify behavior appropriately
to new or changing situations in order to reach an objective.
 Customer Service Skills: To meet the needs of internal and external customers/clientele in a
manner that is professional, courteous, helpful, timely, responsive, proactive, accurate, and
knowledgeable.
 Dependability: To attend work on time and as scheduled; to perform under minimal or
intermittent supervision; and to maintain the confidentiality of information and materials where
appropriate.
 Initiative: To take action independent from external influence when recognizing or anticipating
potential problems and identifying, developing, and implementing solutions.
 Interpersonal Communication Skills: To establish and maintain effective working relationships
with co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, customers, etc.

 Office Skills: To utilize job-related equipment (e.g., personal computer, fax machine,
photocopier, etc.) and software programs (e.g., MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, etc.).
 Oral communication skills: To explain information to individuals and understand oral
information and instructions from individuals while communicating in person and/or by
telephone.
 Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Ability: To analyze relevant information and to make
logical and effective decisions that are in line with organizational objectives.
 Work Skills: To organize and prioritize a workload and to perform accurate and detailed work.

Assess your knowledge, skills, and abilities


Once you have studied the job bulletin and/or class specification to learn about the job, you should
think about your experiences that best match the duties, responsibilities, and requirements of the job.
Develop a list of:
 work and volunteer activities you have performed;
 degrees, certificates, and awards or acknowledgements you have earned; and
 coursework you have completed (such as a business or software class).
Then, take each item on your list and ask yourself:
 What did I learn from this experience?
 What problems did I encounter and how did I overcome them?
 What were the most complex tasks and projects I completed?
 What was my contribution to the organization or class?
Answering these kinds of questions will aid you in illustrating the knowledge, skills, and abilities you
have developed or enhanced that could help you perform the job.

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.” -Henry Ford
4
Case Example
Jane is applying for the job of Office Assistant. Her work experience consists of two years as a Sales
Office Clerk for Shoreline Realty, Inc. Her duties at Shoreline consisted chiefly of maintaining client
files using a hardcopy filing system; creating documents and correspondence using Microsoft Word;
managing employee information using Microsoft Excel; and greeting and providing assistance to
clients both in person and by telephone. While at Shoreline, Jane was commended for her exceptional
customer service skills and for implementing an overhaul of the office filing system.

How would Jane best match her work experience to the duties of an Office Assistant?

Some of the knowledge, skills, or abilities she


Duties and responsibilities of an Office Assistant: Jane’s related work experience:
demonstrated:

Maintains files, records, logs, and  Filed hard copies using an  Adaptability
other information resources. alphanumeric system containing over  Dependability
10,000 files;  Problem Solving/Decision-
Making Ability
 Maintained a client appointment log  Initiative
for approximately 30 office staff;  Work Skills

 Recommended and successfully


designed and implemented a plan to
overhaul the office’s hardcopy filing
procedures and structure.

Uses a personal computer and word  Used MS Word to design flyers and  Office Skills
processing software programs to forms and produce correspondence;
create and maintain documents and
forms.  Used MS Excel to maintain
employee work schedules and track
sales and hours worked;

 Completed a certificate program in


MS Word software training.

Greets and assists callers and visitors  Provided lunch coverage for the  Customer Service Skills
to the office in person and by office receptionist;  Interpersonal
telephone. Communication Skills
 Assisted clients over the telephone;  Oral Communication Skills

 Received three letters of


commendation from clients for
providing excellent customer service.

“One who moves mountains begins by carrying away small stones.” -Chinese Proverb
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Learn about the types of questions common to County structured interviews
At the County of Los Angeles, our structured interview questions are designed to assess the
knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job. Most structured interview questions can be
classified into one of the following formats, illustrated by the examples that follow:

 Experience-Based interview questions inquire about the breadth and scope of your application of
job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities:
 “What office equipment have you used on-the-job and what kinds of routine tasks did you
perform using this equipment?”
 “Describe your experience classifying, cataloguing, reviewing, and evaluating books within a
large-sized public library system.”

 Behavior-Based interview questions require you to apply your knowledge, skills, and abilities in a
job-related situation. The two types of behavior-based interview questions are past behavior and
situational:
 “Tell me about a time when you provided exemplary customer service. What were the
circumstances, what did you do, and what were the results?” (past behavior)
 “An important client arrives at the office and demands to see your supervisor without an
appointment. How would you handle this?” (situational)

 Knowledge-Based interview questions ask you to demonstrate a level of familiarity with the
terminology, practices, concepts, and theories related to the career field in question:
 “What accounting practices would you use to ensure that budget reporting obligations are
fulfilled?”
 “What are the most important factors for a Social Worker to consider when attempting to
establish a working relationship with a client, and why?”

 Personal Perspective-Based interview questions ask you to relate your viewpoint or perspective
regarding a job-related variable:
 “Why do you think it would be important for a person to be able to function under minimal
supervision?”
 “What do you believe is the most important role for a consumer advocate in today’s
marketplace, and why?”

“All things are ready, if our minds be so.” -William Shakespeare


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Study the S.T.A.R. method
Behavior-based interview questions are used with increasing frequency in organizations. This is
because they are an effective way to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the job, while at the
same time increasing the objectivity of the interviewing process by focusing on job-related
accomplishments. Past-behavior questions, which ask how you have performed in a previous, job-
related circumstance, are based on the premise that past behavior and performance are good predictors
of future behavior and performance (i.e., how you have behaved in a past situation is a good indicator
of how you are going to behave in the same or similar situation). Situational questions, which ask
how you would perform in a job-related situation, are based on the premise that the behaviors that you
say you would perform in a situation are the actual behaviors that you will perform in a similar
situation.

Formulating effective responses to behavior-based interview questions that focus on past behaviors
rests on being able to tell the interviewers a “story” that demonstrates the nature of the task or problem,
the strategies you planned and implemented, and the results of your actions. As illustrated below, the
S.T.A.R. method of responding will help you to form effective responses to behavior-based questions.

Situation: What occurred or what was the assignment?


 Clearly and concisely describe the situation so that the interviewers can place
themselves in your place and understand the event, the circumstances
surrounding the event, and the people involved.

Tactics: What strategy did you develop to handle the situation?


 Tell the interviewers about the plan you created to handle the problem, making
sure that it adequately accounts for the details in the situation you described.

Action: How did you implement your strategy?


 After describing your plan, tell the interviewers the specific actions you took to
resolve the problem.

Results: What was the outcome?


 Describe the results of your actions. Make sure to highlight the specific
outcomes so the interviewers fully comprehend what you accomplished. If
things did not turn out as you planned, focus on the positive by telling the
interviewers what you learned from the experience and what you would do
differently next time. This lets the interviewers know that you see mistakes or
failures as opportunities for growth.

By following this response format, you will provide the interviewers with evidence that you can handle
situations that may be faced by someone working in the job for which you are interviewing.

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first hour sharpening the ax.” -Abraham Lincoln
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S.T.A.R. method in action
The two chief types of behavior-based interview questions are past behavior and situational (see pages
5-6 for more information). Remember, the difference between these two types of questions is that with
past behavior questions, the focus is on “What did you do?” while with situational questions it is on
“What would you do?” Note the following examples to see how the S.T.A.R. method can be applied to
both question types:

Past Behavior Question: Situational Question:


Interviewer: “Tell us about a time when you Interviewer: “You are working as an Office
implemented a change in a process or system at Assistant and one of your duties is to maintain an
your job that had a positive impact on your electronic database of client information. One
organization. In your response, please describe day you notice that the database is running out of
the situation, what you did to improve it, and the available memory, and that many of the files are
results.” unnecessary duplicates. How would you handle
this problem?”

Situation: What occurred or what was the


assignment?
Situation: What occurred or what was the
assignment?

Response: “When I worked at Generic Response:


Conglomerate, Inc. as an Office Assistant,
I noticed that our electronic client database (Does not apply. Situation provided by the
could hold a maximum of 300,000 records, interviewer.)
and that we were already storing 290,000
records in the system. This meant that we
would soon run out of available memory.
This was due primarily to the numerous
duplicate files in the system.”

Tactics: What strategy did you develop to


handle the situation?
Tactics: What strategy would you develop to
handle the situation?

Response: “I informed my supervisor of Response: “I would inform my supervisor


the situation and asked her if I could devise of the problem and obtain her approval to
a plan to clean the database. With her develop a plan to remove the duplicate
approval, I developed a plan to identify the records in the database. Next, I would
duplicate records based on a client’s last determine a way to identify the duplicate
name and address. I presented my plan to records based on a unique identifier like a
my supervisor, and she approved it. client’s last name and address. I would
present my plan to my supervisor and gain
her approval before putting it into action.”
(continued on the next page)

“Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture.” -Amelia Earhart
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Past Behavior Question: Situational Question:

Action: How did you implement your


strategy?
Action: How would you implement your
strategy?

Response: “I ran a query to produce a Response: “I would run a query in the


report that identified records with the system according to a unique identifier
same last name and address. I then like last name and address. From the
printed out a report of the duplicate query, I would produce a report of the
records and compared them to ensure duplicates and compare the records so
that I kept the one with the most that I retain the records with the most
complete and up-to-date information. complete and up-to-date information. I
After identifying all the duplicate would then go into the system and
records, I went into the system and carefully remove the duplicate
carefully deleted them.” records.”

Results: What was the outcome? Results: What would be the outcome?
Response: “Input and retrieval of client Response: I believe this plan would
information became considerably easier free additional memory and increase
due to the cleaning and consolidation. efficiency. It would probably also save
The available memory increased by 20 the company the expense of
percent, which saved the firm the prematurely purchasing additional
expense of having to purchase additional memory for the system.”
memory prematurely. Also, I was
approved to attend training on the
advanced features of the database
program.”

Practice, practice, practice!


Rare is the person who is able to “ace” an interview without having practiced beforehand. Indeed,
most successful job seekers have learned that the best strategy for demonstrating their qualifications
during the actual interview is to have practiced responding to questions before the interview.
Practicing for your interview will help you to:
 anticipate the types of questions you may be asked;
 clarify your thoughts with respect to what you want to convey in responding;
 identify areas of strength and weakness; and
 develop a presentational style you feel at ease with.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau
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Mock interviews provide an excellent opportunity for you to practice for your interview. Ask a friend
to take on the role of “Interviewer” by asking you realistic questions related to the job for which you
are applying. During the mock interview, be sure to practice the S.T.A.R. method and follow these
general guidelines for interview success:

 WHEN LISTENING:
 Be attentive. Lean forward slightly to indicate interest.
 Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked before you respond.
 Make good eye contact with the interviewers.

 WHEN RESPONDING:
 Don’t be afraid to allow a moment of silence to occur while you take the time to formulate
your thoughts. Rushing can cause your response to be incomplete or disorganized, so be sure
to take some time to organize a good response.
 Avoid speaking too quickly. Make sure your responses are clear, concise, and complete.
 Avoid the use of slang and phrases such as “um,” “ah,” “you know,” and “like” to fill in
between your statements.
 Avoid using “impressive” words that you do not use in your daily conversations. You may use
the word inappropriately, which will have the opposite effect of what you intended.
 Use technical jargon or acronyms related to your field only if you are required to do so in order
to respond. Otherwise it is best to stick with easily understood language.
 If you worked as part of a team, focus on your specific role and what you specifically
accomplished. Remember that the interviewers are evaluating you! To ensure that you speak
about your contributions to a team, speak in the first person by saying, “I did” not “We did.”
 Keep your responses focused on what was actually asked. You want to discuss all relevant
information, but don’t get so caught up in the details that you forget what was asked.
 Be positive and enthusiastic. Frame your responses in a positive light. If the information is
negative, think about what you learned from the situation and convey this to the interviewer.
Never complain about past employers.
 You should be doing most of the talking. Interviewers can only evaluate you on what you say,
so include all relevant information about your qualifications fully, and give examples from
your experience with all of your answers. Avoid giving only “yes” or “no” answers.
 Make sure you are not conveying negative body language (such as slumping posture, crossed
arms, leaning backward, etc.) which may send the wrong message about you.
 Manage your time and pace yourself so you have an opportunity to respond to each question.
You should probably spend no more than 1-2 minutes responding to most questions (more time
may be required for multi-part questions).
 Be honest!

 RELAX AND BE CONFIDENT!


 Make sure you are comfortably seated in your chair before the interview begins so that all of
your attention is focused on the questions you will be asked.
 Avoid excess body language such as gesturing with your hands; avoid displays of nervous
mannerisms as well (e.g., nail biting, hair twisting, knuckle cracking, drumming fingers, etc.).

After the mock interview, ask your friend to critique your responses and general performance. Some
questions to ask include: Did you provide enough information in your responses for him/her to make
an accurate judgment of your qualifications? Did your poise and demeanor send the right message?

“Success supposes endeavor.” - Jane Austen


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Seek additional resources
Though we cannot specifically endorse or recommend any interview preparation resources beyond this
guide, the following may prove valuable if you would like to pursue or engage in additional interview
preparation activities:

 California WorkSource centers, funded in part by the County of Los Angeles, offer free
interviewing workshops. Visit http://www.worksourcecalifornia.com/ for more information.
 Many colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area provide interview training to current
students and alumni, often free of charge or for a small fee.

Dress for Success


You should dress in “business casual” to “traditional business” attire for the interview. Where your
attire falls within this range should depend on the job for which you are interviewing. Choose your
outfit at least a day in advance and make sure it is clean, pressed, and fits you well. You will want to
minimize the use of make-up, jewelry, and cologne, as these things tend to draw focus away from you
as the candidate.

Plan your travel


Get directions at least a day in advance. Map the address of the interview site and choose an alternate
route in case of traffic tie-ups. Generally, the County does not validate parking for job candidates, so
bring a reasonable amount of cash to pay for parking. If possible, drive by the location ahead of time
and note the parking location and rates.

“Success supposes endeavor.” - Jane Austen


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The Day of the Interview
On the day of the interview, you should allocate at least two hours to spend at the interview site.
Interviews occasionally run later than scheduled, so be prepared to stay if necessary. Plan to arrive at
least 15 minutes before your scheduled interview to allow time for parking and check-in. Have proper
identification as indicated on your invitation letter, as well as anything else you have been advised to
bring.
After entering the interview site, inform the receptionist of your arrival. He/she will let the interview
coordinator know that you are waiting. While you wait to be called, take a moment to center your
thoughts and get comfortable.
Turn OFF any portable audio or video devices (i.e., cell phones, pagers, Palm Pilots, etc.) prior to the
start of the interview. Additionally, you should refrain from making or receiving any phone calls while
you are waiting to be interviewed because this would disturb other candidates who are also waiting
and/or being interviewed.

During the Interview


The interview itself can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour, or as indicated on your invitation
letter. Candidates are each given the same amount of time to interview. In order to get the most from
your time, start it off like a winner. Offer a firm handshake and a pleasant smile when introducing
yourself. Keep in mind that

 there will most likely be two interviewers and you should direct your responses to each, not just to
the one who asked the question.
 the interviewers may be taking notes while you respond. Don’t let this distract you.
 the interviewers may ask follow-up questions to obtain more information about your response.

After the Interview


Congratulations, you’ve made it through the interview! Once the interview has concluded, be sure and
thank the interviewers for their time and offer each a firm handshake.

After your interview, the interviewers will evaluate your responses according to predetermined rating
standards based on the requirements of the job. To ensure consistency and accuracy during the
examination interview, the interviewers are trained in all aspects of the interview process, including
how to apply scoring standards uniformly to all candidates.
Once all interviews have been completed, interview materials and scores are reviewed and processed
by the analyst in charge of the examination. Score information will be sent to you via standard U.S.
Mail only, to the mailing address you have provided on your application. Immediately notify the
analyst in charge of the examination of any changes to your mailing address (refer to the job
bulletin for information on who to contact).

About confidentiality
Because the County examination process is competitive, all examination content must remain
confidential. You will not be able to take notes during the interview, and you must not discuss any of
the content of the interview with anyone. If you are found to have discussed content related to the
interview, you will not only put yourself at a disadvantage by helping other candidates to score higher
than you, but you may also be disqualified from participating in this and any future examination.

"As a rule, he or she who has the most information will have the greatest success in life." Benjamin Disraeli
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Ready for Success Checklist
This checklist was created to assist you in preparing for your interview. Here we have listed some of
the activities you can do to help you perform your best.

Did you remember to...


…familiarize yourself with the County’s operations?
…research the duties and requirements of the job by obtaining the job bulletin and/or class
specification?
…develop a list of:
 work and volunteer activities you have performed;
 degrees, certificates, and awards or acknowledgements you have earned; and
 coursework you have completed (such as a business or software class)?
…match your knowledge, skills, and abilities to the requirements of the job?
…review the different types of questions you may be asked during the interview?
…read about the S.T.A.R. method and other general interview guidelines?
…practice being interviewed by a friend?
…seek additional resources, if needed?
…choose an appropriate outfit to wear?
…allocate at least two hours to spend at the interview site?
…map the location of the interview and set aside money for parking?
…congratulate yourself? You’re on your way!

Your Feedback
In order to assist us in enhancing this guide, we greatly appreciate any feedback you would provide.
Please email any suggestions to testprep@lacdhr.org. In the subject line of your email, please write
“Interview Preparation Guide.” Thank you in advance for your response.

Contributors
The Test Research Unit of the Department of Human Resources is pleased to offer this guide as part of
a series of preparation tools and resources available to individuals proceeding through the County’s
employment process. Valuable input and guidance for this guide was provided by professionals
throughout the County, including:

 Christopher Stevens, Program Specialist, Chief Administrative Office;


 Marc Shartzer, Principal Analyst, Human Resources; and
 Angela Hunt, Human Resources Analyst, Human Resources.

For other employment test preparation resources, please visit the Department of Human Resources
website (http://hr.lacounty.info) and click on “Job Information” and “Employment Test Preparation.”

The County of Los Angeles wishes you well in your employment endeavors.